The morning news reported that past President Jimmy Carter has entered a final phase of his long life’s journey. Of all the images of him, my favorite is of him in a hard hat, hammering nails, in his great passion for Habitat for Humanity.
Carter left his presidency under the cloud of the Iran hostage ordeal after having lost his hopes for a second term. Often the measure of a person is not in their glories but in the way they weather disappointment, disfavor, and loss. In reading the late David McCullough’s wonderful biography of Harry Truman I see some of he same strong steps in moving forward and being content to let time and history decide. Harry drove himself and Bess back home after his last day in office and went about living a consistent and productive life.
Whatever setbacks people experience, a reliable way to move forward is in “hammering nails” or finding some work to do. Complaining and explaining have their short window for offering relief. Looking for that next project, be it cleaning out and making order or building something or just developing a new life routine, moving forward involves action. During the first world war, soldiers getting over what was then called “shell shock” were taught the art of knitting to begin the process of resting the mind.
Sometimes when I was working with vey emotionally distraught children, I would get out a box of multi colored beads. They would sit at a little table in my office with a glass of juice or a chocolate pudding cup and separate out all the beads by color. One at a time. Just getting the job done. No talking or advice giving at this point, just sorting and making some order in something, anything.
As adults, we are more prone to believe in endless talking. While talking has its place, the mind sometimes rests best and resets while “hammering nails.